After debuting its first location in NoMad in 2015, the Midtown East branch of La Pecora Bianca opened with some neighborhood buzz in October 2017. I recall chatting about it in expectation with the folks across the street at Somm Time just before opening. In the weeks afterward, it turned into somewhat of a hang for the somms, and it did for us too! The restaurant would feature locally-sourced produce and meat, pastas made with ancient and whole grains, and an Italian wine list. I have to admit that the first thing that caught my eye on the menu was Produttori del Barbaresco by the glass. I had a feeling right then that this could be our kind of place.
We booked a table during opening week. Dining at a
restaurant during opening is always interesting, because it’s not a question of
whether things will go wrong—they will!—it’s a question of how the staff will
handle them. On this night, our only tribulation was a bit of a wait for our
table, and for this trouble we were offered a nice cheese plate as we waited by
the bar. They passed the test with flying colors!
Since then, Pecora has found its way into our regular rotation. The food here is what you might call mainstream modern Italian. This is neither fine dining, nor old-school, but it’s good, and it leans healthy. We have sampled salads, pastas, fish and seafood, and while there haven’t been any dishes that we dream about at night (hello cacio e pere at Felidia!) everything is good enough to keep us coming back, the pastas in particular. I was pleased to see a bucatini cacio e pepe, previously a special, make it to the regular menu. Arancini have been on the menu since opening. While Pecora no longer offers Produttori by the glass, there is almost always a good Produttori, sometimes a reserve, available by the bottle, along with other solid Brunellos and Super-Tuscans. Cocktail service is good, and they pass the Plymouth gin test.
The main dining area is rather large, on the bright side and with a volume level approaching high (although nowhere near the cacophony of the nearby Smith). These are not our favorite attributes for a dining room, but somehow Pecora makes it all work. This is a very solid choice for entertaining out-of-town guests. Breakfasts and brunches, during which the scene is not as lively as dinner, are also good options.
“Give me a whisky, ginger ale on the side. And don’t be stingy, baby!”
And with that drink order, Greta Garbo spoke her first ever line in a talkie, 1930’s Anna Christie. “Garbo Talks!” screamed the ads! It was a big deal. So we also see that whisky and ginger ale is a classic combination. And with good reason: the burn of the ginger acts as a counter-irritant (as William Powell’s Godfrey would say) to the burn of the booze, and the sweetness of the mixer gives the whole drink a nice lift.
My own connection with the drink is, however, much more personal: it was my Dad’s drink. He would have them when company was over, but I think his favorite time to have them was on the weekend, watching hockey games on TV. I was a precocious kid, and I learned at an early age, probably nine or ten, how to make them for him. My parents had these fancy tumblers with gold trim; there was a ring around each glass near the bottom, which I figured was the right fill line for the whisky. I’d then fill it up with Canada Dry ginger ale, no ice. I remember the first time I made him one, he approached the drink with caution, took a sip and then with a somewhat surprised expression, proclaimed it good. After that, for the next few years anyway, I would mix him the odd one while he watched those hockey games. Now I know that there will be people who are perhaps appalled at the thought of a young child mixing drinks for their father. That’s fine, but I really don’t care. It’s but one of many nostalgic memories I have of my father, who left this Earth in 2002.
In Canada, up through the 90s at least, which is when I left Ontario for NYC, Rye and Ginger is a popular drink. And ‘Rye’, in that context refers to Canadian whisky, which is very different from an American straight rye. My Dad didn’t really have a preference, I remember seeing Crown Royal (with the cool bag), Canadian Club, Seagram’s VO, and Seagram’s Five Star (with the cool plastic “sheriff’s badge”). I suspect that in the years since I left, Rye and Ginger may have become somewhat of an old man drink.
For my own version today, I’m going to skip the Canadian whisky and opt instead for an excellent NY state rye, Breuckelen Distilling bottled in bond small batch. And I’m also subbing in my own house-made fermented ginger beer– recipe to follow soon! My current batch of ginger beer isn’t super carbonated yet (it’s only been going for two days), but it has a lovely yeasty, slightly funky, honey and spice flavor profile. If I were served this blind, I would not guess in a million years that this is a two-ingredient drink.
A shot of rye whiskey
Serve in a tumbler, on the rocks, or neat like my Dad liked
For a classic Rye and Ginger, use Canadian whisky and commercial ginger ale. To make a Horse’s Neck, substitute brandy (classic) or bourbon (another variation), serve on the rocks and garnish with a long lemon twist, extending outside the rim of the glass.
You might say I caught the fermentation bug from kimchi.
Salty, spicy, sour, with a slightly crunchy edge, this staple of Korean cuisine makes a deliciously addictive addition to everything from fried rice to tacos to sourdough pancakes to grilled cheese sandwiches.
You can buy small jars of artisanal versions for upwards of $10. I’m here to tell you it’s easy–and satisfying–to make at home.
The active prep time is minimal. But with all the resting/fermenting required, it’ll be four days at the very least until you have kimchi that’s ready to eat. The ingredients are: Napa cabbage, daikon (Japanese radish), scallions, ginger, garlic, salt, sugar, plus a Korean a hot red pepper powder called gochugaru (available at specialty stores such as Kalustyan’s here in NYC and also online). Traditional non-vegan recipes include fish sauce and dried shrimp.
Kimchi relies on the same probiotic (human-friendly) bacterium for its fermentation as sauerkraut: lactobacillus acidophilus. The bacteria are naturally present on the cabbage leaves and just need a little encouragement. That encouragement comes in the form of salt and being packed tightly in a container deprived of oxygen. Both of these things kill off the competing (human-unfriendly) bacteria, giving the lactobacillus acidophilus freedom to take over. (If you’re interested in reading more about the subject, I highly recommend books by Sandor “Sandorkraut” Katz.)
I made my very first batch of vegan kimchi three years ago. I’d never tried my hand at making any fermented foods before and, to be honest, felt a little apprehensive about adding dried shrimp to something that was going to be sitting unrefrigerated on my kitchen countertop for over 24 hours. Plus shrimp and the fish sauce were just another two ingredients I’d need to buy. I decided to try a vegan recipe instead, and found a great one from J. Kenji López-Alt at Serious Eats. It’s possible to simply skip the seafood and leave it at that. But he substitutes miso paste to give the finished product extra tasty umami depth.
I’m a much more confident home fermenter now, but am hooked on this vegan version of kimchi (one day I’m going to try the shrimp). I make it regularly, and over the years have adjusted the ingredients and prep method slightly to my preferences. Traditional recipes call for whole Napa cabbage leaves–or, for larger batches, an intact, whole head of it, with the seasonings packed between the leaves (cool video here). But I found tearing the leaves into smaller pieces made them easier to handle every step of the way. They were easier to salt, easier to mix with the chili paste, and easier to pack in–and pull out of–jars.
I also learned the measurements don’t need to be exact. If you only have three scallions on hand instead of six, three scallions will do just fine. Same goes for garlic and ginger–and the hot pepper. You even have some leeway with the amount of salt. As for the countertop fermentation, 24 hours is a basic minimum, but in cooler weather I let it go for about 36. The kimchi will get more and more sour as the process goes on. Once it’s in the fridge, fermentation will continue but at a much slower rate. Feel free to adjust to your own tastes.
2-3 tablespoons non-idodized salt (kosher or sea salt)
6 scallions, trimmed, greens separated from white parts, and cut into 2-3 inch lengths
fist-sized piece of daikon (Japanese radish), peeled and cut into matchsticks approx. 1/4 inch thick
5 cloves garlic, peeled
2-inch knob of fresh ginger, peeled and chopped coarsely
1/2 cup gochugaru (Korean red pepper powder)
2 tbs miso paste (I used low sodium)
1 tbs sugar (I used dark brown but any kind will do)
Remove core from bottom part of Napa cabbage. Tear leaves into small pieces and place in a large bowl. Add scallion greens and daikon matchsticks. Add salt a little at a time to bowl, mixing to distribute among the leaves. Cover with a cloth and allow to wilt for 6-12 hours. Stir as needed to redistribute salt. The vegetables should release 1/4-1/2 cup water.
In a food processor, combine scallion whites, garlic, ginger, gochugaru, miso, and sugar. Whir for a few seconds to form a coarse paste.
Combine paste with the cabbage mixture in a bowl. Add 1/4 cup of water and either stir with a spoon or knead with hands until the paste is evenly distributed. Taste for desired saltiness and adjust as necessary. Pack into a large jar, pressing down with the back of a spoon to release any trapped air pockets and allow some liquid to rise to the surface until the vegetables are completely submerged. Tighten lid on jar.
Allow to sit at room temperature 24-36 hours. Open jar after 12 hours or so to release gasses. Place in fridge. Can be consumed in 48 hours and keeps for a month or two. Note: Kimchi will become softer and more sour as time goes on.
When we heard that the folks at Crave Fishbar were opening a taco joint in our hood, we were thrilled. Crave is our go-to seafood restaurant in Midtown East, and it’s got a lot going for it: great oysters, a solid wine list, healthy and delicious fish and seafood options, and a really lively dining-at-the-bar scene. So we had high hopes for Tacovision, the team’s new taco bar on East 53rd Street. With the Crave pedigree, we were expecting great fish and seafood options, as well as solid vegetarian and vegan choices. In short, we were not disappointed.
We visited TV—as the cool kids already call it, no doubt—on taco Tuesday. In addition to $6 margaritas, they were featuring a $3 brussels sprouts taco. There are plenty of options for us non-carnivores, with four vegan taco options, and four pescatarian. We went with three of each, and also opted for vegetarian nachos. The nachos were serious business, piled high with kale and cauliflower, beans, and cheese—decidedly not nachos “Flanders’ style!” All of the tacos were great, with the fried cod taking first place in our ranking. The house-made blue corn tortillas were very good. The $6 margs were good too. We ordered them up, and they came cold, an in an appropriately-sized cocktail glass.
With the departures of some good, and some not so good, Mexican and taco joints, Midtown East is currently a little underserved for tacos. Sure, there are solid upscale versions at Pampano and Rosa Mexicano (as well as Maya and Cascabel a little further uptown). So Tacovision has a sporting chance of finding a solid niche. The block of 53rd between 2nd and 3rd is already home to some of our neighborhood favorites: Doug Quinn’s saloon Hudson Malone, underground Japanese whiskey and jazz bar Tomi Jazz, as well as an outpost of the Kati Roll Company. Tacovision is a welcome addition to the block and to the hood.
A guy walks into a bar: Bartender: “What’s yours?” Guy: “Old Pal.” Bartender: “Listen buddy, I don’t know you from Adam. So I’ll ask you again, what’ll it be?” Guy: “I’d like an Old Pal, please.” Bartender: “What in hell is that?” –end scene
Some version of this scene has been playing over and again for me, minus the Capra-esque patter, for many months now. I’ve been conducting a bit of an experiment, and have found that hardly anyone, bartenders included, knows how to make an Old Pal. I think the bartender at Elixir, a truly excellent bar in San Francisco, may have been the only one who remembered it. And that’s a shame, because it’s a great drink.
I’m a big fan of Negronis–they’re my go-to when I’m looking for a gin cocktail that’s as bracing as a slap across the face. A few years ago, I fell in love with Boulevardiers, which swap out the gin for bourbon. I was in Louisville for two weeks this summer, and had one of those pretty much everywhere I went. But Nora and I both have a preference for rye whiskey over bourbon, at least in cocktails, and that’s where the Old Pal comes in. If you swap out the bourbon in a Boulevardier for rye, and also swap out the sweet vermouth for dry vermouth, now you have an Old Pal. This is exactly how I explain the drink to a bartender who doesn’t know what an Old Pal is. If they also don’t know how to make a Boulevardier, I’ll order a whiskey on the rocks.
The drink was created by Harry MacElhone, of Harry’s New York Bar in Paris, in honor of his friend and frequent customer, William “Sparrow” Robertson, a sports writer for the New York Herald. Robertson would call everyone his “old pal,” and the drink was named. The associations with Harry’s and Paris in the ’20s complete the allure of the drink for me.
1 oz Rye Whiskey
1 oz Campari
1 oz Dry Vermouth
Build in a tumbler filled with ice. Serve with a lemon twist for garnish.
Given the similarities between the Old Pal and the Boulevardier, I thought it would be instructive to mix up one of each and do a side-by-side comparison. I was expecting the Old Pal to be crisper and the Boulevardier to be sweeter, and I was blown away by how much that turned out to be the case. The Boulevardier was tasting almost like sweet cough syrup in comparison to the sleeker, racier Old Pal. I think I will keep ordering them!
And speaking of old pals, our friend Kara Newman has a great book, “Shake. Stir. Sip.” which features the Old Pal, and about 50 other equal parts cocktails. It’s worth checking out, as are all her books!
I’ve always loved Vincent Price’s ghoulish persona as a horror actor. He combined rarefied charm with an uncanny creepiness. But he was also clearly having fun, and he wanted us all to be in on it.
He brought that same generous sense of fun to his work as a cookbook author. In 1965, he and his British-born, costume designer wife, Mary Price, published the first of what would be several celebrity cookbooks: A Treasury of Great Recipes.
The globe-trotting couple collected house recipes from chefs at their favorite restaurants across Europe, the United States, and Mexico. There are many NYC stalwarts from years gone by (The Four Seasons (RIP), Trader Vic’s (RIP), Sardi’s, Gage and Tollner’s (RIP, but returning soon?)). Everything is adapted for the 1960s American home cook. The ingredients are simple and the recipe headnotes are encouraging (“If you can lay brick you can frost a cake”… ok, maybe not the best example). The Prices vividly describe the history and ambiance of each restaurant in before getting to the recipes. Full menus are reprinted too (can you believe sea bass at The Four Seasons used to cost $4.65?)
I snagged a vintage copy online about 10 years ago for around $20–roughly the same as what it listed for back in 1965. It’s a lush volume: gold-embossed, padded cover (think Ottolenghi’s oh-so-huggable Plenty), with two sewn-in satin ribbon bookmarks. Very deluxe.
I was tickled to learn the book was re-issued in 2015 for its 50th anniversary. No more cushy cover, but now with a preface by the late Prices’ daughter, Victoria, plus a foreword by Wolfgang Puck. A well-deserved return from the publishing grave.
By the way, are you getting a Halloween pumpkin this year? Chester and I got one, but haven’t carved it yet. Once we do, we’re going to put the seeds to good use. Here’s a recipe for pepitas à la curry that Emilio Gonzalez, then owner of Sobrino de Botín in Madrid, shared with with the Prices during one of their visits. The original specifies commercially hulled pumpkin seeds (aka pepitas), but we’re going to give whole seeds a try.
Pepitas à la Curry (Curried Pumpkin Seeds)
(adapted from A Treasury of Great Recipes by Mary and Vincent Price)
Friday was a gorgeous day in New York, perfect for our weekly visit to the Union Square Greenmarket. Who knows how many more days we will have like this? Traditionally, end of harvest is the last chance to ferment, can, and store food for the rough season ahead. Even though we already have plenty on hand, we stopped off at the Oak Grove Plantation stall to get another beautiful batch of chilis for this year’s fermented hot sauce production. We also picked up some green and red cabbage, and bolero carrots for our latest fermentation project, sauerkraut. Sauerkraut is not exactly a staple of ours, but Nora has been making excellent homemade kimchi for a couple of years now, and we thought this would be a good time to branch out.
I grew up in a very Polish household. Every house we lived
in had either a proper root cellar, or various nooks in the basement where my
mother squirreled away mass quantities of canned foods and homemade treasures:
dill pickles, jams, and always a giant vat of sauerkraut. You may think that
the Polish national dish is pierogi or cabbage rolls, but in fact, that honor
goes to bigos. Bigos is a hunter’s stew made sauerkraut, fresh cabbage, and various
meats. Growing up, it was served at pretty much every formal dinner my parents had
with their various friends and relatives. I never really cared for it as a kid,
and haven’t really had the opportunity to try it since becoming a pescatarian over
twenty-five years ago. We will try out some vegetarian bigos recipes in coming
weeks. I am also really dying to try a vegetarian Reuben sandwich recipe.
1 head green cabbage
1 head red cabbage
Clean cabbages and retain some of the outer
Scrub and trim 4 carrots, do not peel.
Shred each cabbage into a large mixing bowl.
With a peeler, shred the carrots into the mixing
Mix to evenly distribute the cabbages and
Weigh the shredded cabbage and carrots, add 2% salt
Let sit for 5-10 minutes.
With both fists, take handfuls of the mixture
and squeeze, to release the moisture. Keep doing this until water flows from
the cabbage like wringing a wet sponge.
Tightly pack mixture into Mason jars or sauerkraut
Take some of the outer cabbage leaves and use as
a ‘lid’ inside the jar or crock. Push down to make sure all is submerged by the
NB: if using a lidded Mason jar, you must periodically
loosen the jar or open the lids to allow gasses to escape. Fermentation will be
at its most vigorous for the first few days.
Periodically taste. After a few days, it will be
crispy and fresh tasting, for weeks and months after that, it will develop
sourness and deeper flavors. Eat it when you like it!
The main vessel we are using to ferment this is a 1.5L vintage Le Parfait Super Jar that Nora found at the Housing Works Thrift Shop. We closed the lid when we packed it, and by Saturday evening, the gas buildup was substantial, opening the lid released a violent spritz of purply brine. After that, we have mostly been keeping the lid loose. When first shredding all the cabbage, it seemed like it would be an enormous volume, but that went down after the squeezing step, and went down further after packing into the jar.
Looking at recipes, a 2% salt by weight appears to be a common target. For folks like us, who are watching our sodium intake, that may be a bit too much. Sandor Katz recommends salting to taste.
Few drinks are as evocative of a place and time as the Sazerac. The place is New Orleans, and the time is mid-century. Mid-19th-century that is, near the beginning of the cocktail story. Apothecarist Emile Amedée Peychaud was selling his namesake bitters, mixed with brandy. John Schiller was the New Orleans agent for Sazerac de Forge et Fils Cognac. In 1859, he opened his bar and dubbed it the Sazerac Coffee House. Schiller gave the Sazerac cocktail, made with Peychaud’s bitters and Sazerac cognac, its name. Later on, in 1870, the preferred base changed from brandy to rye whiskey. This much is established. Claims that the Sazerac was the first cocktail, and claims around the origins of the term ‘cocktail’ itself are probably apocryphal (or is that apotheracril?) These details aside, our credo is that New Orleans gave America two of its greatest inventions: cocktails and jazz.
The best Sazerac I ever had was years ago during Tales of the Cocktail in New Orleans. Nora was at an event for the afternoon, so I was free to while away a few hours in the Napoleon House. It was a beautiful day and the way the sunlight was playing inside the bar is impossible to describe or forget. While we all enjoyed Sazeracs, I chatted for over two hours with a couple from Baton Rouge. I have no idea what we talked about, and I suspect the only thing we had in common is that we all appreciated the beauty of that moment.
Generous 2 oz pour of whiskey
1 lump of sugar
Several dashes of Peychaud’s bitters
Several dashes of absinthe
Notes on Ingredients
For the whiskey, we used Breukelen Distilling’s 77 Whiskey Bottled in Bond. We picked this up during New York Rye Week at the Union Square Greenmarket and have been enjoying it neat, in cocktails and on the rocks. For the Absinthe, we used St. George Spirits Absinthe Verte. There is no substitute for the Peychaud’s bitters, although some reputable establishments, including the Napoleon House, use a mix of Peychaud’s and Angostura bitters.
Gather two tumblers. (We are using Duralex Picardie tumblers that we just found at Housing Works for a dollar a piece!) Fill one tumbler with ice and chill. In the second tumbler, add the lump of sugar. Add dashes of Peychaud’s bitters to cover the sugar. Muddle the sugar and bitters with the back of a spoon. Add the whiskey and stir. Add ice to fill the glass. Prepare the second tumbler: discard the ice. Rinse the glass with the absinthe, and discard the absinthe. Using a Hawthorne strainer, strain the drink from the build tumbler into the chilled tumbler. Garnish with a lemon twist and serve.
Suggested film pairing: this one is a no-brainer, as featured in Nora’s Classic Cocktails, Classic Film series, it’s Live and Let Die from 1973.
I’ve always been wary of unitaskers in the kitchen, those one-trick pony gadgets that get used for a few short weeks or months before falling into back-of-cupboard oblivion. But after watching a demo video on America’s Test Kitchen, it was clear a sous vide machine could offer big multitasker potential.
If you’re not already familiar, sous vide machines (aka immersion circulators) are devices that warm up water to a set temperature, and hold it steadily for a slow, precisely-controlled cook. The latest generation of machines are small–about the size of a stick blender. You can use them with any large container you have on hand to hold the water bath (dutch ovens are a go-to choice). Depending on the recipe, the food goes into a waterproof (plastic or silicone) bag or a jar.
Because they maintain such a reliably precise temperature, they’re easy to use. No stirring or flipping necessary. And no scorching or overcooking. Just preheat the water, set the timer, and the machine does the rest.
Right out of the box, Chester dove in and was soon making perfectly cooked shrimp for shrimp cocktails, poached eggs simmered right in their shells, and dried beans cooked so gently their skins stayed intact. The only dish that got mixed reviews was salmon: Chester loved it for its lightly cooked tenderness, but I found myself craving something crisper-edged and more well-done.
I’d been meaning to try my hand at homemade yogurt for a long time, but didn’t have a dedicated yogurt maker (unitasker), and hadn’t gotten around to investigating work-arounds like thermoses, heating pads, pre-heated ovens and the like. But the sous vide machine made my first attempt easy.
The only ingredients you need for yogurt are milk and a few tablespoons of plain yogurt with live cultures.
For the milk, I chose whole, non-homogenized, but lowfat would work well too. For the yogurt, I looked for something without additives (many brands add thickening agents), containing just whole milk and bacterial cultures.
The basic steps are simple: preheat the sous vide, warm the milk, cool the milk, whisk in the yogurt, place the mixture in jars in the sous vide bath, set the timer and wait.
I checked on my yogurt-in-progress a couple of times as it sat in its warm bath, and was amazed at how quickly the bacterial cultures got down to business. The milky mixture began to show signs of setting within the first hour. By the time I checked again, 8 hours in, it was definitely yogurt. I tasted a little and it had a familiar creamy texture, but was still a little bland. I let it go another few hours until it took on that classic tangy flavor.
Sous Vide Yogurt
1 quart milk
3 tablespoons plain, full fat yogurt
Fill a large dutch oven or other large, flat-bottomed container with water until it reaches the level of the sous vide jet. Preheat to 110F.
Gently heat the milk in a saucepan, stirring constantly until it reaches 180F. Turn off heat and immerse the saucepan in an ice bath until the temperature of the milk drops to 110F. Whisk in yogurt. Pour mixture into jars (I used two 32-ounce wide-mouth mason jars, filling each half way, level with the water line, then combined them into a single jar when the yogurt was ready). Screw lids on jars, securely, but not too tight. Set timer for 12 hours. Remove from water bath and stir. Chill in refrigerator.
How early do you have to arrive to be the first in line at the Village Vanguard? I found out last weekend, two nights in a row. The first set at the Vanguard starts at 8:30, and the doors open at 7:30. On Saturday night, we gambled that 6:45 would be early enough. And it was, but just barely, because the line began forming behind us within a few minutes. We always run into nice people on line at the Vanguard. We met Dan, who had flown in from Detroit just to catch Barry Harris. Dan is a Barry Harris superfan, but not a musician himself.
Dan flew in from Detroit just to see Barry Harris at the
Vanguard. The first time I saw Barry, the chap sitting next to me had flown in
from Dallas, and was catching every set that week. On a later date, the person
in front of us on line had flown in Toronto. We had a nice chat and it turned
out he was Elvis Costello’s guitar technician. Ok, so why are people flying in
all over to hear a pianist in his late 80s?
In order to understand that, you need to know a couple of
things, one is Barry’s place in jazz history, and the other is his role as an
educator. History first. Barry was born in Detroit in 1929, and based there
through the end of the 50s. While in Detroit, Barry served as a mentor and
music teacher to all the young players who were around the scene at the time,
including Paul Chambers—much like Monk had been doing in New York in earlier
years. Barry moved to New York in 1960, and his recording career began in
earnest. Since then, he’s recorded twenty-five records as a leader, and appeared
with a long list of greats, including Cannonball Adderley, Donald Byrd, Benny
Golson, Dexter Gordon, Coleman Hawkins, Sam Jones, Hank Mobley, Lee Morgan, and
Sonny Stitt. Odds are, you have at least heard him play on Lee Morgan’s hit, The
Stylistically, Barry has strong links with two other pianists, Bud Powell and Thelonious Monk. Of the two, Barry’s playing is closest to Powell’s in harmonic approach and melodic approach. Powell’s melodic language is classic bebop; if you could imagine Charlie Parker playing the piano, you would wind up with Bud Powell. Monk’s own style was of course unique, but he and Powell were friends and certainly admired and influenced each other. But Barry had a much closer personal connection with Monk—they lived together in Baroness Pannonica de Koenigswarter’s house in Weehawken in the 1970s until Monk’s death in 1982. (Nica was a patron of jazz, and bebop in particular, perhaps most famous for her relationship with Charlie Parker. When Bird died on March 12, 1955, it was in Nica’s apartment at the Stanhope, across the street from the Metropolitan Museum of Art.) Barry still lives in that house in Weehawken.
So Barry had already been a teacher and a mentor in Detroit in the 1950s. In the 1970s, he started teaching workshops in New York. From 1982-87, he taught at the Jazz Cultural Workshop, which he co-founded. Since then, he has maintained his own weekly workshops in New York. I first started attending them off and on about five years ago. They take place every Tuesday night when Barry is in town, from six until midnight, divided into sessions for pianists, singers, and then at ten, improvisers on all instruments. The only reason I don’t go every week is that I already have enough of Barry’s materials to work on for the next few decades. When Barry is on tour internationally, he conducts workshops there too. Through that process, he has developed a couple of generations’ worth of acolytes. One of the most prominent of the younger generation is the brilliant Italian guitarist Pasquale Grasso, who has standing set at Mezzrow every Monday night. If Bud Powell is like Charlie Parker playing the piano, Pasquale is like Bud Powell playing the guitar.
We settled in for the first set on Saturday night. Having arrived first, I was able to grab the seat directly to Barry’s left, maybe two feet away from him. Barry came on with his trio of many years, with Ray Drummond on bass, and Leroy Willams on drums. Barry began his banter. It had been a tragic couple of weeks for master jazz pianists. Harold Mabern had died on September 17, Richard Wyands died on September 25, and Larry Willis died on September 29. Barry sang a tune dedicated to all three. For the rest of the set, Barry narrated an improvised story that he used to introduce each tune. “You are walking down the street, and you see someone who looks really fine, and you think to yourself, ‘I Want To Be Happy.’” Hit it. Later on, Barry played Blue Monk, and I still have goosebumps thinking about it. The set wrapped up with one of Barry’s audience participation numbers, which he referred to as “jazz karaoke.” “Ok, we need a number from one to eight.” Someone calls out, “eight!” and we all feel bad for that guy. “No, man,” Barry laughs, “something better than that!” Barry is asking for musical intervals, out of which he will improvise a new tune. I think that night the pattern was “two-four-five-three.” A few members of Barry’s choir were in the audience, and they sang along. I sang along too. I always look forward to Barry’s tune Nascimento, which will often end a set and is another tune that the audience sings and claps to, but he ran out of time.
The set ended too quickly, and we only had tickets for the
first one. I arranged to meet Dan for the first set Sunday night. I only had a
ticket for the second set, Dan was gracious enough to gift me the extra ticket
he had. How early to arrive Sunday night? I really wanted to make sure I got
there early enough, so this time I arrived at 6:15. Again, I was first in line.
But this time, I was joined even more quickly, and then more and more people arrived.
Several people from the workshop, including some of the choir members. Dan
arrived. It started raining lightly, and the person working the door told us we
could stand under the awning, but only up to “this line,” gesturing to a crack
in the sidewalk. A woman from Germany came over and asked if she could share
the awning. She wasn’t trying to sneak in, honest, just keep dry. She was
dressed for an evening out, and wearing Chanel No. 5. Her husband stayed back
in line in the drizzle, it was OK, he had a hat on.
7:30, time to sit down. Dan and I grabbed table one, right at the stage. Barry seemed a little happier and a little more relaxed on this night. Through two sets, he brought out several guests, a couple of his piano students, a trumpet player, a singer. I had an extra ticket for the second set, and I was able to pay it forward to a gent sitting in the back who needed one. He was, our server told us, another Barry superfan. Ethan Iverson came in and sat down at the table to our left. Towards the end of the second set, the gentleman who had been second in line hopped up on stage and did a beautiful modern jazz dance to one of the tunes. As always, the second set of the last night featured the choir for most of the numbers. It’s such a sweet, glorious sound, evocative of the choral jazz of the 1960s.
The set was over, the week-long stint was over. Barry and the band milled about the stage and Barry kept on joking around with the audience. He finally ended his patter with, “We’ll be black…” And then, “we’ll be white… black.”